Woman with her baby.
August 8, 2019 | by Aisha Jimoh Reuler MD, FAAP, CLE

Breastfeeding is considered the best source of nutrition for most newborns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many medical groups including American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for up to six months and continued breastfeeding for up to one year along with the introduction of solid foods.

Breastfeeding Benefits Baby and Mom

Unless women or babies have a health condition that prevents them from breastfeeding, most health care professionals encourage women to try breastfeeding even if only for a short time. Breastfeeding is associated with reduced risk of childhood asthma, atopic dermatitis, ear infections, gastrointestinal infections, as well as chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Breastfeeding is also associated with positive maternal health outcomes, along with reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Many studies also show that any breastfeeding appears more beneficial than no breastfeeding, and that the longer you breastfeed the greater the benefits to you and your child.

Breastmilk Adapts to Baby’s Needs

The nutrients in your breast milk changes to adapt to your newborn baby’s needs. As your baby grows, the amount of protein, fat, sugar, and water in your breastmilk changes. Colostrum is the first milk your body produces during pregnancy and just after birth. This breastmilk is rich in nutrients and antibodies that help develop your baby’s digestive and immune system. After the first couple weeks, your colostrum develops into mature milk that has the right combination of nutrients to support your baby’s growth and development.

Do What’s Right for You

While breastfeeding may be considered the ‘best’ way to feed your baby, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that it’s right for everyone. Breastfeeding takes a major commitment. Moms need time and practice to learn the techniques that work best for them.

What everyone does seem to agree on is that support for breastfeeding moms is crucial and it’s helpful at many stages along the way, during pregnancy, postpartum, and for the weeks and months that follow. As a new mom, learning to breastfeed may come easily to you or you may need help practicing how to sit and hold your baby comfortably to nurse, how to manage nursing bras and clothing, how to nurse in public, and how to pump breast milk when you’re away from your baby. There are many places to turn to for support including your primary care provider, obstetrician, pediatrician, a lactation nurse or specialist, or a breastfeeding support group.

Early Breastfeeding Tips

  • Nurse at the first signs of hunger. Watch for cues that your baby is hungry: stirring, rooting, putting her hands in her mouth. Avoid waiting until your baby cries. Crying is often a late hunger cue and having a baby who is upset can make nursing more difficult.
  • Start with a regular schedule. In the first six weeks, try to nurse about every two hours during the day and about every four hours at night to help establish a good milk supply, waking baby if needed. Sometimes babies will clusterfeed every hour and that’s completely normal too. Once your baby has established a pattern of consistent weight gain, you can eliminate a set schedule and rely on baby’s hunger cues alone.
  • Track weight gain and diapers to know if baby is getting enough to eat. Breastfed newborns gain about six ounces per week, have 3 to 4 dirty diapers per day, and 5 to 6 wet diapers per day. If your baby isn’t gaining as expected, talk with your doctor.
  • Ensure proper latch/positioning. Use one common holding position that works for you to help establish a breastfeeding routine. Baby’s lower lip and jaw should be below the nipple, with nose near the nipple. Wait until baby’s mouth is open wide before moving onto your breast. Teach baby to open wide by moving her toward your breast, touching her top lip against the nipple; move slightly away; repeat until mouth opens wide with tongue forward. Use your hand to support the base of your baby’s head. Two important questions to ask yourself about positioning and latch: Is it working for both of you? Is it comfortable and pain-free? If so, your baby’s position is probably just right.
  • Alternate the breast you offer first with each feeding. This stimulates milk supply and helps your body to produce the most breastmilk possible. To help you remember which breast to start with at your next feeding, consider moving a safety pin from one side of your nursing bra to the other. Once you get familiar with breastfeeding, you’ll know which side feels fuller and which side to offer first.
  • Let your baby nurse as long as she wants. At each feeding, you produce a more watery foremilk and then a more fat-rich hindmilk. Allowing your baby to nurse until she’s satisfied (but typically no more than about 30 to 40 minutes) ensures your baby gets the full nutrients and benefits of both.

Breastfeeding is a great way to initiate the special bond between you and your newborn and to ensure she gets off to the healthiest start possible. While many agree that breastfeeding is the ‘gold standard’ in infant nutrition, it takes time and practice, and may not be right for everyone. Be sure to ask for breastfeeding help and guidance before your baby is born and throughout her first weeks to help you both make the most of that time together.